Trouble for Bush from top Republicans!


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

October 7, 2006
Warner¹s Iraq Remarks Surprise White House

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 ‹ The White House, caught off guard by a leading Republican 
senator who said the situation in Iraq was ³drifting sideways,² responded 
cautiously on Friday, with a spokeswoman for President Bush stopping short of 
saying outright that Mr. Bush disagreed with the assessment.

³I don¹t believe that the president thinks that way,² Dana Perino, the deputy 
White House press secretary, said when asked whether the president agreed with 
the senator, John Warner of Virginia. ³I think that he believes that while it is
tough going in Iraq, that slow progress is being made.²

Ms. Perino¹s carefully worded response underscores the delicate situation that 
Mr. Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has created for the White 
House just one month before an election in which Mr. Bush has been trying to 
shift the national debate from the war in Iraq to the broader war on terror.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday after returning from a trip that included a 
one-day stop in Baghdad, Mr. Warner said the United States should consider ³a 
change of course² if the violence there did not diminish soon. He did not 
specify what shift might be necessary, but said that the American military had 
done what it could to stabilize Iraq and that no policy options should be taken 
³off the table.²

With the blessing of the White House, a high-level commission led by James A. 
Baker III, the former secretary of state, is already reviewing American policy 
in Iraq. But the commission is not scheduled to report to Mr. Bush and Congress 
until after the November elections, a timeline that the White House had hoped 
would enable Mr. Bush to avoid public discussion of any change of course until 
after voters determine which party will control Congress next year.

Now, Mr. Warner¹s comments are pushing up that timeline, forcing Republicans to 
confront the issue before some are ready. In an interview on Friday, Senator 
Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who has been critical of the administration¹s 
approach in the past, said there was a ³growing sense of unease² among other 
Republicans, which she said could deepen because of Senator Warner¹s comments.

Ms. Collins, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, 
echoed Mr. Warner¹s calls for a shift in strategy in Iraq. ³When Chairman 
Warner, who has been a steadfast ally of this administration, calls for a new 
strategy,² she said, ³that is clearly significant.²

She said the current approach, which she attributed to Secretary of Defense 
Donald H. Rumsfeld, had not led to an overall reduction in violence or any 
prospect that American troop levels would come down soon.

³We¹ve heard over and over that as Iraqis stand up, our troops will stand down,²
Ms. Collins said. ³Well, there are now hundreds of thousands of Iraqi troops and
security forces, and yet we have not seen any reduction in violence.²

Democrats, who have been using their fall election campaigns to tap into intense
voter dissatisfaction with the way that Mr. Bush has handled Iraq, quickly 
seized on the Warner remarks, circulating them in e-mail messages to reporters. 
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations 
Committee, convened a conference call on Friday afternoon to hammer home the 
theme that even Republicans believed that the administration must change course.
³Warner¹s statement is an important, important statement and, I hope, a turning 
point,² Mr. Biden told reporters.

He that at least two Republican colleagues other than Mr. Warner had told him 
that once the election was over, they would join with Democrats in working on a 
bipartisan plan for bringing stability to Iraq. Echoing Mr. Warner¹s language, 
he said, ³I wouldn¹t take any option off the table at this time. We are at the 
point of no return.²

The White House said Friday that Mr. Bush had not spoken to Mr. Warner about his
comments, and otherwise insisted that it had not glossed over the problems in 
Iraq. During her afternoon briefing, Ms. Perino harked back to a speech in late 
August in which, she said, the president said Iraq was at a ³crucial moment.² 
She said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had put forth the same message 
during her unannounced visit to Baghdad this week.

Later in the day, the White House circulated an e-mail message titled ³Iraq 
Update: Political Progress,² citing comments of other lawmakers, including 
Democrats, who had returned from the Middle East with more hopeful assessments 
than the one offered by Mr. Warner.

David S. Cloud contributed reporting.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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